Tuesday July 23, 2024

History, language and Sufism

By Dr Naazir Mahmood
November 19, 2023
The image shows the book cover of ‘Ishq Nama Shah Hussain: tasavvuf and malamat’ authored by Farrukh Yaar shown above. —Facebook/Farrukh Yar
The image shows the book cover of ‘Ishq Nama Shah Hussain: tasavvuf and malamat’ authored by Farrukh Yaar shown above. —Facebook/Farrukh Yar

Seldom does one come across two books by the same writer that enchant readers so deeply.

As a student of history and languages, I am compelled to share my impression about Farrukh Yaar’s books: ‘Dorahey’ (intersections) and ‘Ishq Nama Shah Hussain: tasavvuf and malamat’ with my readers.

‘Dorahey’ covers a wide range of topics such as belief systems, languages, places, and mythologies. This 230-page tome is a brief encyclopaedia of literature and politics that have influenced societal evolution in the Subcontinent, especially in Punjab on both sides of the border.

This multidimensional study presents a detailed picture of the cultural causes that underpin the crises that this region has been experiencing for decades, or perhaps for centuries. Farrukh Yaar’s main focus has been on the local dynamics of historical processes that have shaped the social fabric of this region.

The approach is entirely unbiased in advocating the local origins of local issues, as the writer believes that a denial of our shared history in the Subcontinent has caused much damage to societies in both India and Pakistan. This common development of society made this region a fertile land of cultures and ideas that shaped a civilizational identity we cannot just wish away.

Farrukh Yaar identifies the tendency of some local people to relate more with alien ideas and foreign denominations rather than associating with this land and its people.

A major weakness, as the writer highlights, in our ruling elite is that it has consistently denied the potential of local creativity and diversity while stressing on a uniform culture and linguistic identity that people are unable to relate with.

‘Dorahey’ is a book that promotes a synthesis of cultures within and across the borders. The syncretic culture that thrived here for centuries now finds itself threatened by parochial and hyper-patriotic elements who want to develop an artificial identity that is more exclusive than inclusive, based on hatred not love.

The Subcontinent has undergone deep fissures and ideological clashes that have damaged cultural affinities, during and after the colonial period. This process of polarization has been increasing both unilaterally and bilaterally whereas religion has emerged as a major polarizing force nationally and internationally.

Farrukh Yaar attempts to reverse – or at least to reduce – this process by his books that challenge a tainted view of culture and religion. Peaceful coexistence is the mantra that he has been promoting through his highly readable and convincing poems and prose.

‘Dorahey’ is a beautiful composition of scattered concepts and expressions that used to connect, but gradually have lost their meaning as populations dispersed and cultures dissipated. It is the lamentation of a tragedy unfolding, a representation of a more believable past – with warts and all – and not of a ‘glorious past’ that perhaps never was.

To Farrukh Yaar, the glorious past is more of a deception than reality, and that is the reason he wants his readers to understand some real causes of our backwardness stemming more from cultural poverty than economic one.

He wants us to be aware of our disappearing identities that have torn apart the society itself while sapping all its energies and intelligence. He has been successful in bringing forth the pages of our lost histories and a composite culture that can still play a role in restoring our confidence in ourselves.

Linguistic and ethnic diversity is rooted in a shared past that we must resurrect to find our way out of this morass that has engulfed the Subcontinent for decades. His message is clear and his style is convincing.

Since Farrukh Yaar is also a poet of considerable repute, his diction is poetic. He has established his name mainly thanks to his poems since the 1980s when he was young. He has published four collections of poems with ‘Karaiz’ being a fairly long poem that has documented human struggle within a post-modern milieu.

He received the UBL Literary Award for Best Poetry in 2018. History and research are his particular areas of interest with a specific focus on the 16th century Punjabi poet, Shah Hussain. While ‘Dorahey’ is an attempt to understand cultural ingredients of our society, his book on Shah Hussain has a much wider range.

The first section of ‘Dorahey’ deals with beliefs and mythologies wherein he discusses concepts such as ‘Nirgun bakhti’, ‘taqayya’, ‘khalifa’, ‘jati sati’, ‘rawal’, and ‘guru granth sahib’. The second section is about history, mostly dealing with Punjab and its adjoining areas. He begins with a brief introduction to Sikh history and the struggle of Banda Bahadur against Mughals in the early 18th century. Then he moves on to the war of independence and the role various personalities played in it. This section contains some fairly interesting vignettes about ‘Dars-e-Nizami’, ‘Karbala Gamay Shah’ and the origin of Muharram processions in Lahore.

In the third section titled ‘Bhasha’ (language), Farrukh Yaar introduces us to some interesting expressions and ideas that we have been using without fully grasping their meaning. Some of the words discussed are: ‘bonga’, ‘panga’, ‘jugaarh’, ‘chowk’, ‘khawaja’, ‘dada’, ‘kotha’, ‘khaancha’, ‘murat’, ‘nata’, ‘namaaz’, and ‘hutth’.

The fourth section is about society itself dealing with words such as ‘ustaad’, ‘baajra’, ‘baaee’, ‘basant’, ‘bhabrha’, ‘bhangi’, ‘chakla’, ‘khandan’, ‘daak’, ‘roti chapatti’, ‘solah singhaar’, ‘shagird’, ‘qaroora’, and ‘naaee’. The fifth and sixth sections deal with fine arts and some interesting places. With this background, he ventures into his next book: Ishq Nama Shah Hussain.

This book is a much thicker volume than ‘Dorahey’ and in 400 pages it deals with ‘tasavvuf’, ‘malamat’, ‘sangeet’, and ‘kalam’ by Shah Hussain. While ‘Dorahey’ was published by Muktaba-e-Danyal in Karachi, the volume on Shah Hussain is a product of Book Corner Jhelum. ‘Ishq Nama Shah Hussain’ is truly a labour of love by Farrukh Yaar who has opened new avenues of studying mysticism and understanding Punjabi poetry. It is hard to find meanings in the Punjabi poetry of that period without first dealing with the mystical underpinnings of that literature.

‘Malamat’ is a difficult word to translate in English. It can mean various things ranging from criticism to stigma and warning. All these nuances attract Farrukh Yaar who explores the vicissitudes that ‘malamat’ has experienced in mystical history of literature and religion.

To give Shah Hussain his proper context, Farrukh Yaar begins much earlier with Mansoor Hallaj who used to wear black even on Eid, inviting the ire of the pious. In addition to ‘malamat’, the book also deals with the concept of ‘fatoot’ that we can loosely translate as chivalry or knighthood.

The first chapter of the book is a hundred pages long and focuses on ‘fatoot’ and ‘malamat’ in mystical literature and its creative streak as manifested in the style of Shah Hussain. This chapter traces the origin of mysticism in some of the brave young men (fatoot) who displayed the highest degree of good behaviour coupled with courage in struggle, and respect in manner. The mystics had a refined aesthetic sense of appreciation and loved beauty in all its forms. With interesting discussions on Haafiz, Rumi, and Shams Tabraiz, the chapter is a delight to read.

While reading you find these figures in absolute rapture and ecstasy; they compose poetry, dance in unison, and at times work miracles.

The second chapter is about ‘sangeet’ (music) in South Asian mystical tradition with a reference to Shah Hussain. Farrukh Yaar has dived deep into every line of Shah Hussain, discussed the provenance of the various ragas and explained the poetic symbolism ingrained in Shah Hussain’s compositions. After 200 pages of the detailed background to mystical thought in the Muslim world, the book gives another 200 pages of Shah Hussain’s poetry with accurate translations and each word beautifully and painstakingly explained.

‘Dorahey’ and ‘Ishq Nama Shah Hussain’ are both worth reading. Farrukh Yaar and his publishers – Book Corner Jhelum and Maktaba-e-Danyal Karachi – deserve accolades for the two books.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets/posts @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at: